GOP tensions on display at Republican Leadership Conference
June 18th, 2011
07:56 PM ET
11 years ago

GOP tensions on display at Republican Leadership Conference

New Orleans (CNN) - Conservative after conservative took the stage and railed against President Barack Obama at this week's Republican Leadership Conference, a three-day gathering of presidential candidates, party activists and political operatives in New Orleans.

But their sharp attacks were interrupted by stern warnings from party leaders to remain focused on winning in November 2012 instead of becoming preoccupied with ideology, litmus tests or silly distractions.

The starkest admonition came from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a respected party elder and political tactician, who told the conference that "purity is a loser" in politics.

He urged Republican voters to concentrate on a pocketbook-oriented economic message, and to pick a candidate who offers "plain-spoken, common-sense solutions" instead of an ideology-driven agenda.

"We are not going to have a perfect candidate," Barbour said. "There has only been one perfect person that has ever walked on this Earth, and there's not going to be one who runs for president in 2012."

Barbour's pragmatic message was well received by the roughly 2,000 delegates who came to New Orleans for the conference, which was organized by the Louisiana Republican Party.

But in the end, it was wave after wave of pointed attacks - the very rhetoric that Barbour cautioned against - that earned the rowdiest applause at the conference.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich labeled Obama a "national secular European socialist."

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota gave the president a "big F on his economic report card" and claimed, without corroboration, that Obama wants to bankrupt Medicare in order to force seniors to enroll in his new national health care program.

And just 24 hours after Barbour's speech, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Republicans should never back down from their core principles in order to score points with the electorate.

"Our party cannot be all things to all people," thundered Perry, who has emerged in recent weeks as another potential presidential candidate. "It can't be. Our loudest opponents on the left are never going to like us, so let's stop trying to curry favor with them."

Conference organizers also invited an Obama impersonator, Reggie Brown, who delivered a comedy routine peppered with jokes about President Obama's birth certificate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormon faith.

The appearance drew applause and raucous laughter but was hardly in keeping with Barbour's plea to stay focused on defeating Obama rather than being distracted by political sideshows.

Organizers eventually grew uncomfortable with the off-color humor and pulled the comedian off the stage.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who may run for president himself in 2016, echoed his neighboring governor and reminded Republicans that winning back the White House is the ultimate prize.

He said conservatives should not stoop to the level of liberals who savaged George W. Bush during the previous administration.

"We must not mimic their shallow approach," Jindal warned.

"Hating President Obama is foolish, but defeating President Obama is absolutely crucial," he said.

If the results of a presidential straw poll conducted at the conference were any indication, Republicans may be ready to put aside some elements of party dogma this primary season.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a hero to libertarians, won the 2012 straw poll in dominating fashion.

But it was former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's surprising second-place finish that attracted the most attention.

Huntsman did not attend the conference, but his strong showing was surprising given his moderate stances on climate change and same-sex civil unions, positions that put him at odds with conservative activists who hold major sway in the key early caucus and primary states.

Even Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, told CNN "there's a good possibility" he could support any of the current crop of Republican candidates in a general election against Obama.

"Most of them are pretty good," Perkins said.

Perkins said he agrees with Barbour's anti-purity approach, but only to a point.

"If you've got the core principles, where you are strong on national security, if you understand the idea of economic freedom as well as traditional values, but then within those parameters there are degrees of difference of opinions, yeah, that's OK," he said.

But, he added, "If you are saying we are going to take a third of these issues and we are not going to deal with them, then that ain't going to work."

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Jay

    Not to be snarky, but the GOP wasting time and money pointing fingers isn't news.

    June 18, 2011 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  2. once upon a horse

    when you basically have no new ideas to fix it, just more tax cuts for the upper 2% and loopholes for corporations, and to be honest your truely BEST shot to win is a bad economy, then what more do the GOP have than to attack President Obama? That's what they have been good at since Jan 21, 2009 being united against this president no matter what he tries to do. Let the Obama 'hate-fests" continue and we'll see who comes out with the best ideas when it comes time to face off next year.

    June 18, 2011 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  3. SiriusVH

    Yes, GOPsters, please stay focused. Why don't you, for instance, explain how Ryancare would work so beautifully for Seniors? Or, for instance, why don't you explain why, since November 2010, you have not done ONE thing to help the economy create jobs? Why don't you, for instance, explain why the extension of the Bush tax cuts in December 2010 have not created the jobs you claimed they would create? Why don't you explain to us why the tax cuts that Bush initiated during his presidency did not eliminate the Federal debt by 2010 as the Heritage Foundation had 'predicted' in 2003?

    June 18, 2011 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  4. Nick

    So they're intentionally declaring their desire to win over talking about views, direction, and policy?

    June 18, 2011 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  5. Name king

    Seriously do these repugs have any idea how to fix this economy, all they do every second of the day is feed their right lunatic fringe Obama bashing and tax cuts, why are they slashing state and local workers firemen, police officers, and teachers jobs. Then scream in the same voice that Obama not creating jobs. I didn't see bush create 2 million jobs in 15 months. As he took one of the best economy in history and created the second worst financial disaster in history. Then his cronies are bashing Obama saying 2 million job creation in 15 month are not strong enough and the economy is not growing fast enough, well atleast it's doing the opposite thing than when you guys were at the helm.

    June 18, 2011 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  6. OneMoreTime

    Is anyone really listening to these people? They have standing ovations, applause, screaming, shouting, and all
    because of the hateful, lying rhetoric being spewed by these "candidates" against President Obama Not one word about their ideas for solutions, except repeal, not one word about jobs bills, not one word about the good that has been
    done and how they can work to build on it. George Bush was arrogant, but I never heard him say the hateful, mean
    words these people are saying. They are indefensible.

    June 18, 2011 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  7. The Elephant in The Room

    Silly distractions = Republican

    June 18, 2011 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |